Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 33: Florence, Part 13

July 1, 2023


Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820, about 200 years ago .

In honor of her birthday, "International Nurses Day" is celebrated every year on May 12th.Both of her parents came from wealthy British aristocratic families and they went on a honeymoon trip that lasted for three years long!

It was during this trip that Florence Nightingale was born in Firenze, Italy.

Because she was born in Firenze, she was named "Florence" in English.

Her education-focused father taught her not only English but also Italian, Greek, philosophy, history, and even mathematics, which was considered unnecessary for women in those days.

She grew up to a beautiful and highly educated lady and became a prominent figure in society.

However, after turning 30, she abandoned her engagement and inheritance to become a nurse at a hospital in London, despite nursing being a disrespected and unqualified profession at that time.

Then, in 1853 the Crimean War broke out and she was assigned along with her fellow nurses to the Scutari Army Hospital located in present-day Istanbul.

The hospital appeared luxurious but was built on top of a sewer filled with filth, making it highly unsanitary.

Furthermore, Nightingale and her colleagues were treated as nuisances by the medical staff on site.

Because the chief of the medical staff had reported to his home country England that there were no problems, they did not want Nightingale and her colleagues to carry out their activities and reveal the actual conditions.

Moreover, the military's chain of command was so inefficient that Nightingale had to go out of the way to report the commander of England in order to let the local commander know the shortage of medical supplies.

Therefore, Nightingale stood up against male-dominated structure which was bureaucratic,   apathetic and irrational.

Starting with tasks like cleaning the toilets that no one wanted to do, she gradually expanded her privilege.

Occasionally, she disagreed with her superiors and then smashed open many boxes with her fists and took out the medications and other supplies.

She reported the situation to The Times newspaper.

She also appealed directly to Queen Victoria for donations and even used her personal funds to secure supplies of drugs, foods and medical products.

Thanks to her energetic efforts to improve the environment, the mortality rate of wounded soldiers decreased from 42% to 2% in six months.

Because she visited wounded and sick soldiers with the light of a lamp at every night, they called her with gratitude the “Lady with the Lamp.”

After her return home, Nightingale analyzed the causes of deaths of the soldiers and submitted a report to the government spanning 900 pages.

In this medical report, she used graphs for the first time in the world, and so she is called a “pioneer in statistics.”

She established modern nursing and, at the age of 60, founded a nursing school called the "Nightingale School."

It was the first non-religious nursing school in the world.

Afterward, she came to be known as the "Angel of Crimea" and eventually, nurses were referred to as "angels in white."

However, she disliked this designation and stated, "An angel is not someone who just hand out beautiful flowers, but someone who fights for the sake of the sick."

She continued to dedicate her life to nursing and hygiene and finally passed away at the age of 90, surrounded by her students and cats.

In commemoration of Nightingale, who was baptized at the Santa Croce Church, there is a statue of the "Lady with the Lamp" on the wall facing the courtyard of church.

The pedestal of the statue is inscribed with the Latin phrase "HORAM NESCITIS" (meaning "Unaware of time").

It succinctly expresses her extremely dedicated nature, tirelessly caring for and nursing patients day and night.